Wednesday 16 October 2019

Pay caps for top State workers will remain in place - Howlin

Brendan Howlin
Brendan Howlin

Daniel McConnell and Mark O'Regan

Pay caps for senior civil and public servants are to remain in place despite talks to increase pay for State employees, the Dáil was told.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said that pay caps of €250,000 for semi-State employees and €200,000 for civil and public servants will not be increased.

Mr Howlin said: "I will make a final point so that there will be no confusion about it. In terms of the pay recovery we are now involved in, it is my intention that the pay ceilings I put in place immediately on taking office will be retained."

He was responding to Independent TD John Halligan.

The first session of talks between the Government and unions on pay restoration for 300,000 public service staff ended after 15 minutes yesterday.

Government officials set out the basis of the process and signalled it wanted to achieve a collective agreement. It is understood the Government has a deadline of the end of June for the current process.

Unions also indicated a preference for a single pay restoration deal applying across the public service. It is understood the unions are broadly in favour of a flat-rate increase.

But one of the country's most senior trade union officials has refused to rule out industrial action should public sector pay talks break down.

Siptu president Jack O'Connor warned that while there was a need for improvement in the "standard of public service", the Government should not be looking to "extract more" from workers. Instead, the talks must commit "more resources" to the public sector, and restore pay levels for lower paid workers.

"It's about incentivising people, how you reward them, and offering them the prospect of fulfilling careers," he said.

"I don't see there is any more room for extracting more from individuals in the traditional sense . . . what's needed now is to offer some inspiration and hope to people."

Mr O'Connor said he was not aware of a percentage figure which was regarded as a minimum on the union side, but added: "We must remember people's pay has been reduced by an average of 15pc."

The process will resume tomorrow with a fiscal briefing set out by officials of the Department of Public Expenditure.

The Labour Relations Commission is expected to become involved in the process from next week when substantive negotiations get under way.

Mr Howlin said any agreement must be "prudent, modest and sustainable".

He told the Dáil that between 2009 and 2014, the cost of public sector pay was reduced by €3.7bn, or 21pc. However, he warned that "both sides need to be realistic in terms of the expectations and outcomes of these talks".

"We cannot undo the cuts in one fell swoop because it would undo all the progress we have made," he said.

Mr Howlin committed to prioritising low and middle income workers in the pay talks.

He rejected claims from Fianna Fáil's Sean Fleming that he was praising the previous Government for implementing most of the pay cuts.

Mr Howlin said: "I do not recall giving credit to those who set fire to the State for calling the fire brigade."

He also revealed that Government spending would increase by at least €300m in 2017 to deal with demographic pressures.

This is in addition to the €1.2bn-€1.5bn increase in spending pencilled in for 2016.

Responding to Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, Mr Howlin said the Coalition would reduce the general government deficit to 2.3pc of GDP this year.

"Sinn Féin accused us in the Spring Statement of trying to buy the election and of being parsimonious in our expenditure. It cannot have it both ways," he said.

Irish Independent

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